Friday, September 30, 2011

Ender's Game Movie

I'm so excited about the upcoming Ender's Game movie!!!!  A few things people have said make me a little nervous, though. Apparently:

  • The kids in battle school all have psychic powers from being so smart, like telepathy and starting fires
  • Valentine isn't the sister anymore, but the love interest, and she's like a karate champion
  • There's a scene where Ender decides he's going to break all the rules at battle school, so he puts on a leather jacket and sunglasses and they play "Bad to the Bone" in the background.
  • Bean is now the comic relief, with a lot of dwarf-throwing jokes
  • Instead of launching the Dr. Device, Ender now wins through concentrating hard on the power of love
  • Ender now has a CG alien pet that hangs around and says things in a funny accent (voice acted by Eddie Murphy)
  • M. Night Shyamalan rewrote all the dialogue
  • All the children in battle school are now American, but there's diversity because one is a jock, and one is a nerd, and one is a preppy, and one is a goth
  • Ender's punny catchphrases whenever he defeats someone
  • The formics now look like normal bald people with insect wings, and their queen is played almost exactly like Morgan Le Fay in the Merlin TV movie, including her loyal henchman and evil 1960s eye makeup
  • The battle room scenes aren't in zero-G but in a regular gym, because Nike wanted to do product placement

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ars Hermetica

My brother and I have been discussing creating a new game.  The game would be a type of tabletop role-playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons. But rather than just being set in a magical version of the medieval world, the game itself would pretend to be an artifact from that world. What if role-playing games were invented by alchemists in 1200, instead of Gary Gygax et. al. in the 1960s and 70s?
Here are a few aspects of the game we've discussed:
The play would occur within a "memory palace" invented by one of the players.  The Ars Memoria was a classical technique for memorization that involved creating an imaginary city, and populating it with fantastic images, creatures, and monuments, in order to learn something by heart. It became associated with magic during the middle ages.
Encounters would be resolved by various divination techniques.  These could include dice, but geomancy, cards, sheep knuckles, or astrology are also possibilities.  In this period, even games like chess and nine-men's morris were invested with mystical significance and divinatory properties. The players would have supposed  that the events being described were not fiction, but actually occuring in some ethereal world, and that by sympathetic magic, moving tokens about would allow the players to bring about their ends in that other world.
The "monster manual" would be a variation on the medieval bestiary.
The magic system, maps, and so forth would be based on real sources.
The manuals that you would use to play with would all be made to look like ancient books. (Ideally it would all be in Latin, but I think we would have to compromise, here.)

Playground games

I got a couple of books on playground games and children's oral culture for Christmas, and it occured to me that I might write down some of the oral culture that I still remember. These were from Redford, Michigan, between the years 1980-1987, when I was five to twelve years old.

Rock-paper-scissors, mostly just played as a game for its own sake, rather than to pick who got to do something.

Counting out games
Eenie-meenie-miney-moe, catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers, let him go, eenie-meenie-miney-moe.
(I understand this may have developed from the special counting terms use by shepherds in Scotland.)
 Inkadink a bottle of ink, cork fell out and you stink. Not because you're dirty, not because you're clean, just because you kissed a girl behind the magazine.
Bubble-gum, bubble-gum in a dish.  How many pieces do you wish?
All of these rhymes were using archaic language: we didn't say "holler," we said "yell." We didn't use bottles of ink.  We would say, "how many pieces of gum do you want?"

Songs, mostly parodies using a known tune
Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg.  Batmobile lost its wheel and the joker got away, Hey!
On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.

Clapping games (I never learned them, but the girls would play them often.)
Hello operator, give me number nine, and if you disconnect me, I'll chop off your behind the frigerator, I found a piece of glass...

Four Square
The most important rule of four square was that the person in the highest position got to call out all the rules: he was King. He or she could make up whatever rules he wanted, and many had specific names, like "bobbling" meant bouncing the ball up and down in your hands. In a way it was a game about making rules for games.

Mostly paper airplanes and fortune-tellers

What do you remember learning from other children, rather than at school, or from books?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Fly

There was a short-lived cartoon called Sectaurs in 1984 that got me thinking about what the proper way is to map people onto flies. I was quite fond of the action figures.  Basically, an accident causes a kind of half human, half-fly creature to emerge.  For some reason, the shock of this idea really caught my imagination at age 9. I still remember thinking some of this through on the long school bus ride home.
One of the first things I realized about it was that the concept of "average" I had been taught was the wrong way to go about finding out the height and weight of the monster.  Suppose a person is 100x as big as a fly.  Then the monster, I reasoned, should be 10x as big as a fly, and 10x as small as a person. The concept I was groping towards was the geometric mean.
Later, as I learned more about evolutionary development (as a kid I also found pictures of fetal development fascinating and grotesque in exactly the same sort of way as crossing people with bugs) I learned that the eyes of a human are not developed from the same part of the embryo as the compound eyes of a fly. Human eyes are, morphologically speaking, an extension of part of the brain. Fly eyes, on the other hand, have more to do with skin and hair cells.
The other interesting fact from evolutionary development I learned more recently. In humans, our spinal column is in our back.  In insects, it runs down the belly.  But they are caused by the same sets of genes at the beginning stages of embryonic development.  Basically, the vertebrate body plan and the insect body plan are upside down from each other: our backs are their bellies.  I can't see how including these facts in the next remake of The Fly would make it any less successful at being a horror movie!

Here's a reference for that last bit about the dorsal/ventral flip.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Advice for a high school senior

In general:
You will soon have an enormous amount of freedom to determine the course of your life.  This is more freedom than you will know what to do with. You have to understand that the world is not set up to help you or harm you.  Society is like the laws of nature: it simply doesn't care about you.  If you want something out of life -- love, or money, or happiness, or success -- it is your job, your constant job from now on, to figure out how to get that from the system. You've got to wrestle those things out of the ground.
Now this having been said, you also should realize that it's all life. All the good parts of life and the bad parts are all mixed together.  We all make terrible decisions with lifelong consequences and have brilliant accidents and friends die and children are born. That's just the kind of thing life is.  Don't beat yourself up about it too much.
You need to make plans, and you need to work and think and fight harder than you ever thought you would need to to make them happen.  But no matter what happens, good or bad, experience it -- accept it --  instead of wishing so hard that it was something different that you are angry about it all the time.

About jobs:
As nearly as I can tell, no one has ever gotten a job worth having by going to a jobs website and applying for something that fit their qualifications. It may have happened, but I've never heard of it. Instead, what happens is this: you get to know people, who find out that you are reasonably clever and not prone to yelling. You let them know you are looking for a job.  When their other friends need to hire someone, your friends mention that they know a guy. This leads to an entirely different sort of interview.  The first kind of interview they assume they won't hire you, and they don't.  The second kind of interview they assume they will hire you and they do.
This is why you should do internships and volunteer and write open-source software and generally get yourself into rooms with grown-ups who can see you are a competent sort of person. It's a random and unpredictable process so try to get in as many of these situations as you can.